Saturday Quiz – January 31, 2015

Welcome to the Billy Blog Saturday Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention over the last seven days. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
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    Friday lay day – The myth of equal opportunity

    Its my Friday Lay Day blog, which was meant to mean a smaller writing commitment but sometimes doesn’t turn out that way. But today I plan to stick to that ‘pledge’. I have just arrived back from 2 weeks working in Sri Lanka and have things to catch up on back here. I read an interesting book a few years ago – Whither Opportunity: Rising Inequality, Schools, and Children’s Life Chances – by Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane (2011), which studies “the consequences of rising in- equality for America’s education”. While there are national differences, the dynamics uncovered in that book apply to most nations (that I know of). I am currently engaged in a project on equity and opportunity and the link that this has with income inequality. We are now well informed about the rising income inequality that has occurred over the last 20-30 years. But we are less informed on how this is reinforced and reinforces itself by a stark inequality in opportunity.
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      Australian inflation trending down – lower oil prices and subdued economy

      Despite missing out on the recession associated with the GFC, Australia is now following the rest of the world down the decelerating inflation route. Yesterday, the Australian Bureau of Statistics released the Consumer Price Index, Australia – data for the December-quarter 2014 yesterday. The December-quarter inflation rate was 0.2 per cent which translated into an annual inflation rate of 1.7 per cent. Recall that the September-quarter inflation rate was 0.5 per cent and the annual rate was 2.3 per cent. The Reserve Bank of Australia’s preferred core inflation measures – the Weighted Median and Trimmed Mean – are now at the bottom end of their inflation targetting range (2 to 3 per cent) and are trending down. Various measures of inflationary expectations are also flat or falling, including the longer-term, market-based forecasts. This suggests that the RBA may consider that the major problem in the economy is declining growth and rising unemployment, especially in the context of China’s deliberate slowdown. The benign inflation outlook provides plenty of room for further fiscal stimulus.
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        Conceding to Greece opens the door for France and Italy

        The economics news is currently dominated by the Greek election results and their implications, and, rightly so. Without assuming anything about how much Syriza will compromise (although I suspect too much), the voting has demonstrated that a large proportion of voters in Greece have rejected the basis of the European Commission strategy. The Greek voters know from personal experience, what armchair commentators like me know from theory, that fiscal austerity fails to achieve its aims. It is not rocket science – spending equals income and if you hack into it then the economy contracts. A private spending resurgence is not going to happen when sales are falling, unemployment is sky-rocketing, and incomes are being lost. The basis of Keynesian economics – that when the private economy is caught in a malaise the way out is for government deficits to kick-start economic activity, which, in turn, engenders confidence among private spenders and allows a sustainable recovery to occur – has been amply demonstrated by the GFC in all nations. Where that strategy has been employed the nations have been recovering (at a macroeconomic level). Where it has been defied, such as the Eurozone, the economies have stagnated. Thinking ahead (speculating) the election results have clearly shocked the cosy ECOFIN club, which has smugly swanned around Europe over the last 6 or so years dishing out misery to the disadvantaged citizens in the Member States. But I doubt that they will agree to a 50 per cent write-off in Greece’s debt because then the citizens of Spain, Italy and, even France, would line up for the same. Then it is game-over for the Eurozone. More likely, if Syriza sticks to its promises, then there will be an organised way to ease them out of the game. Greece will win either way.
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          Smart Austerity – its just the same dumb austerity

          “In its current form, EMU is not viable in the long run”. That quote comes from a Report – Repair and Prepare – Strengthening Europe’s Economies after the Crisis – jointly published by the – Jacques Delors Institut (located in Berlin) – and the Bertelsmann Stiftung – (located in Gütersloh, Germany). The Report purports to lay out a blueprint to prepare Europe for the “next potential threat to its very existence”. It proposes a “path towards renovation” to create an “ever closer union”. They claim that they have taken up this task because there is “extensive ‘crisis fatigue’ and ‘euro area debate fatigue’ in “in governmental circles and the media”. I would call it adherence to ideological Groupthink rather than fatigue. There has been a major failure yet none of those who created the failure have put their hands up to take responsibility. Once they dismissed the problem as being caused by “profligate and fat Greeks (insert vilified nationality as to your preference)”, various policy makers and media commentators resorted to the even more amorphous “structural problems” to explain the on-going crisis. The media has been full of captive writers who just reiterate press releases from neo-liberal politicians and/or mainstream economists. So is this new Report different? Is their plan viable?
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            Greek elections – a solution doesn’t appear to be forthcoming

            It is late Sunday afternoon as I write this in Colombo, Sri Lanka and about 4.5 hours to the west the Greeks are getting ready to vote in their national election. It has been hailed as a make or break-type of affair but from what I know from inside-type conversations with some of the players and from general reading it has the hallmark of a fizzer, even if Syriza wins the ballot. Essentially, none of the main players seem to be willing to actually solve the problem. The entrenched interests have helped create the problem and are impoverishing the Greek people (themselves excepted). So they are part of the problem. Syriza talks bit about freeing Greece from the Troika-yoke but has a set of proposals that are mutually inconsistent. They might help around the edge and redistribute income a bit but what is needed is a massive boost in national income and that can only come from a massive increase in spending. The non-government sector is not going to do provide the source of that spending boost to get things moving again. So, ladies and gentleman you know what the answer is – there is only one other sector left in town to do it. And, you also know what is stopping them – membership of the Eurozone and the requirement to obey fiscal rules that restrict necessary spending to stagnation-enduring levels. That is why Syriza’s strategy is mutually inconsistent. Even a debt jubilee – the current favourite of the progressives, which warms their hearts so they can convince themselves that they are different from the neo-liberals will not solve the problem. Repeat: a massive fiscal boost is required, which means deficits above 10 per cent of GDP for many years forward. Repeat: that can only be accomplished within the current political reality if Greece leaves the Eurozone. It should have done that in 2008. It should never have joined. It should do it next week.
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              Saturday Quiz – January 24, 2015 – answers and discussion

              Here are the answers with discussion for yesterday’s quiz. The information provided should help you understand the reasoning behind the answers. If you haven’t already done the Quiz from yesterday then have a go at it before you read the answers. I hope this helps you develop an understanding of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and its application to macroeconomic thinking. Comments as usual welcome, especially if I have made an error.
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                Saturday Quiz – January 24, 2015

                Welcome to the Billy Blog Saturday Quiz. The quiz tests whether you have been paying attention over the last seven days. See how you go with the following questions. Your results are only known to you and no records are retained.
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                  Friday lay day – neo-liberalism has compromised the concept of a citizen

                  Its my Friday lay day – which means I don’t write as much as I usually do and perhaps focus on different issues to my normal considerations. Remember back to 2007. In March 2007, an Australian citizen named David Hicks pleaded guilty to charges that he intentionally provided material support or resources to an international terrorist organisation engaged in hostilities against the United States. It set in place his return to Australia after he was illegally detained by the US, tortured and incarcerated at the Guantanamo Bay gulag without trial for more than five years, and deprived of his rights as an Australian citizen by the very government that is entrusted with defending our rights – our own Federal government. Upon his return to Australia he was incarcerated for a period of 9 months before being finally released. Today, the ABC news report (January 23, 2015) – US agrees David Hicks is innocent, lawyer says – reported that the US government has admitted that David Hicks was not guilty of any crime and a full pardon will be forthcoming. Why is this important?
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                    Posted in Friday | 14 Comments

                    Fiscal austerity drives continuing pessimism as oil prices fall

                    The UK Guardian article (January 20, 2015) – Davos 2015: sliding oil price makes chief executives less upbeat than last year – reported that the top-end-of-town are in “a less bullish mood than a year ago” and that “the boost from lower oil prices is being outweighed by a host of negative factors”. The increasing pessimism is being reflected in the growth downgrades by the IMF in its most recent forecasts. A significant proportion of the financial commentators and business interests are now putting their hopes on the ECB to save the world with quantitative easing (QE). That, in itself, is a testament to how lacking in comprehension the majority of people are about monetary economics. QE will not save the Eurozone. But I was interested in this pessimism in the context of falling oil prices given that with costs falling significantly for oil-using sectors (transport, plastics etc) and disposable income rising for consumers (less petrol costs), the falling oil prices should be a stimulating factor. I recall in the 1970s when the two OPEC oil price hikes were the cause of stagflation. So why should the opposite dynamic cause ‘stag-deflation’ (a word I just invented)? There is a common element – fiscal austerity – which explains both situations.
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                      Posted in Economics | 20 Comments